Emotions ran high during the Quakers for Life debacle last October, the month in which the House passed a bill that would restrict late-term abortions. The debate between the pro-choice left and the pro-life right, both here on campus and nationwide, ineffably ensued.
As a middle-class conservative Catholic, I’ve partaken in and witnessed many an abortion strife. Consequently, it’s exceedingly rare that I encounter a pro-choice argument that I haven’t before. Several of the left’s arguments for abortion are at least intellectually honest and compelling enough to warrant a thoughtful response. But, other popular contentions serve only to obfuscate the real issues and cast aspersions on pro-lifers as well as the conservative movement at large. Normally, I wouldn’t squander my time logically replying to emotional slander, but since some of these talking points have gained significant traction, I thought it worthwhile to address two common examples.
One goes like so:
Conservatives are not really pro-life; they’re only pro-birth because they don’t support social programs. If they truly cared about people’s lives, then they would support government welfare.
The most obvious rebuttal to such a claim is that it’s a blatant deflection of the issue at hand, abortion. The issues of welfare and abortion are utterly independent of each other. That my support for or opposition to one policy is incorrect does not intrinsically render my stance on a separate issue incorrect, too.
In other words, even if conservatives truly did not give one modicum of care about what happens to people after birth, and the metric for compassion is support for welfare programs, how would that reality make abortion morally defensible?
But the asininity of the attack extends beyond it being a deflection. What contenders of the argument that pro-lifers are only pro-birth fail to grasp is that there is a vital distinction between actively slaughtering a person and not financing her lifestyle. If they really believe that to be pro-life necessarily encompasses espousing tax-funded social programs, progressives make the ridiculous assertion that not paying for someone’s medical care and education is akin to wanting him murdered. It’s little more than puerile melodrama: ‘If you don’t financially support my living, then you want me dead!’ Can the left get more condescending than that?
Lastly, the argument is not only fallacious logically, but also factually. Like several progressives, many conservatives care tremendously about the poor and vulnerable. Even according to the notoriously left-leaning Huffington Post and New York Times, Republicans—if “Republicans” can be substituted for “conservatives”—are more likely to donate their time and resources to charitable causes than their Democratic counterparts. If pro-choice proponents actually took the time to listen to pro-life speakers at the March for Life, they would know that the pro-life movement actually encourages good will toward both the unborn and the born. The only difference is that the conservative right believes that charity should be the role of society instead of the government.
Even though I am a staunch supporter of fiscally conservative solutions to poverty, I am not endorsing those policies here. I am merely pointing out that being pro-life and opposed to government programs is indeed not a form of cognitive dissonance.
Speaking of government, the other argument I want to address is this:
Conservatives are hypocrites because they pine for limited government, but it’s “big government” to make abortion illegal. Not everyone agrees that life begins at conception, so keep your morality out of the law!
This claim betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of conservatism.
Conservatives do not strive to limit government at any and every cost. Instead, they want to conserve the principles of the Constitution and the human rights enshrined in America’s founding documents: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, since conservatives see an unborn child as human life, they want to restrict abortion to protect her right to life, a legitimate function of government. The problem is, the left does not view an innocent unborn child as valuable human life, and so they interpret government interference as intrusive.
Once again, the left fails to distinguish between regulating economic affairs and protecting people’s lives. Allowing someone to allocate his own earnings is not even remotely comparable to allowing someone to choose to end another’s life because the latter violates human rights whereas the former does not. If conservatives really wanted to maximally limit government, they could advocate abolishing the entire police force and military because it would be ‘intrusive’ to stop a mass shooter. The analogy is not to equate performers or receivers of abortion to the most heinous degenerates of our society, but to demonstrate that it is not hypocritical to be both pro-life and for limited government in the marketplace.
Ah, but that doesn’t address the fact that not everyone agrees that life begins at conception.
The sheer number of people who don’t concur with my perspective does not detract from the correctness of my position. As an example, plenty of people compare a fetus to cancer cells because both have their own unique DNA separate from the host, but the fact that many people believe the comparison is compelling does not make it compelling. Why? Being a cancer cell is objectively not a part of the human life cycle nor is it classified as homo sapiens, whereas each person alive today has been a fetus with the same homo sapiens DNA she has presently. In the same way, the fact that lots of people believe a tomato is a vegetable does not make those who know it’s a fruit any less right.
This is yet another fundamental dichotomy between the right and left. The left’s ideology is so predicated on relativism that it is more important that they not upset people than be correct, whereas for the right, it is the opposite. To the left, the degree of dissent from the pro-life position is proportional to the validity of the pro-choice position. If pro-choicers are going to impugn the credibility of life beginning at conception, it is not unreasonable to ask them to state when life really begins and provide a cogent rationale as to why their position is superior. Merely proclaiming that not everyone agrees does not aid their case.
So, pro-lifers, if you find yourself confronted with irrelevant pro-choice arguments intended to frame you or our movement negatively, properly reframe the debate. Immediately dismantle ad hominems and ad populums to make the conversation about the well-being of the unborn instead of letting it devolve into an unjust interrogation of your integrity.